MIDDLE VILLAGE, New York -- For much of the 2018-19 girls' basketball season, New Hope Academy was overshadowed by its neighbors in the DMV. On Saturday, New Hope finished in the spotlight by winning the school's first national championship.
Led by sophomore MVP Jada Walker and junior Delicia Pinnick, fourth-seeded New Hope (Landover, Maryland) beat second-seeded St. John's College High School (Washington, D.C.) 45-34 in the final of the GEICO Nationals at Christ the King High School. New Hope beat top-seeded Miami Country Day (Florida) 60-52 on Friday in the semifinals.
"It feels good to be a national champion," coach Sam Caldwell said. "Why practice if you don't want to be No. 1?
"Our chemistry wasn't there early in the season. But communicating with players and having them buy into the defense. ... That was a goal of ours -- to hold teams under 40 points. There is no magic formula about it."
New Hope Academy held St. John's to four points in the first quarter and led 17-12 at halftime.
But Gatorade National Player of the Year Azzi Fudd and St. John's charged back in the third quarter and took a 32-30 lead into the fourth quarter.
The St. John's offense turned stagnant again late in the game and New Hope turned up its intensity. Walker stole an inbounds pass and assisted Demi Washington with a nifty interior pass to give New Hope a 39-32 lead with 2:13 to go. Walker sealed it with a drive and double-clutch finish to make it 41-32 with 1:27 to go.
"We've been doubted by many this year," said Walker, who finished with nine points, five rebounds, four assists, four steals and zero turnovers. "But we continued to rise in the poll and we kept working, kept climbing."
St. John's and Bishop McNamara (Forestville, Maryland) both spent time at No. 1 this season while New Hope (40-3) suffered three losses before the calendar turned to 2019, including an overtime heartbreaker to Miami Country Day in December at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona.
On Saturday, Pinnick scored 13 points for New Hope, and Virginia signee Kylie Kornegay-Lucas added 11.
St. John's (36-2) was led by Fudd, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds but shot just 5-for-19 from the field.
"I couldn't make a shot," Fudd said. "My whole game was ugly."
Said Walker: "I know Azzi is a great player. I'm exhausted trying to defend her."
St. John's coach Jonathan Scribner said his team was doomed by a combination of New Hope's tricky defense and his own team's poor shooting. St. John's shot 30 percent for the game.
"It wasn't pretty," Scribner said. "Their switching on defense presented trouble for us. Our shots didn't go down and they were more physical than us."
Caldwell, who won national titles as coach of Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Maryland) in 2012 and 2014 before taking over at new New Hope, said his team continued to develop throughout the season.
"They all bought into the system," he said. "The New Hope way."